It always feels uncomfortable, to me, to talk about money. It is an essential part of modern life. We need money to buy food and clothes and pay the bills, we need money if we want to own a house or a car or a musical instrument. Want to watch a film at the cinema – generally costs money. Want to read a bestselling book – generally costs money. But there can be a slight grubbiness in talking about money, so I approach this blog post with hesitant footsteps.
Money is something that many of us will have been pondering over the last few months. With the cost-of-living crisis here in the UK, suddenly our money isn’t going quite as far as it did only a few months ago. In this situation, many of us are having to make tough decisions about what we can and can’t spend money on. What is essential? What is a luxury? Is creativity essential? Does writing (at least, spending money on writing) need to make way for other things?
Workshops? Editorial services? I’m aware of more and more people, either on Twitter or in direct messages to my email account (some of which push towards the angry side of the scale!), questioning the cost. ‘Writing courses are too expensive!’ ‘How can it possibly cost £23 for a flash fiction critique?’ This is understandable. Before I started freelancing, I used to have these thoughts myself. But I think it is all too easy to conflate ‘expensive’ and ‘over-priced’ and ‘not-affordable-to-me’. In my experience, some writing services are ‘over-priced’ but others (I hope mine fall into this category) offer good value for money even though they might remain unaffordable to many writers.
The recommended fee for my courses is currently £85. That is not an inconsiderable amount. If I were looking at a course which cost that much, I would definitely need to think about it very carefully. Can I afford this? Will it be worthwhile for me? I would also try and use my experience as a writing teacher to work out whether that price is fair. For my courses, I justify the price as follows:
Three and a half hours input per participant. This covers admin time (more than you’d think!); and feedback on up to five micros (10-15 minutes per micro) and two longer flash pieces (45-60 minutes per flash). I also reply to forum messages about the examples I set as part of the course, reply to emails, interact with participants on Twitter etc. Three and a half hours is almost certainly an underestimate.
The research / writing time in putting the course together. I’ve recently written a course and it has so far taken 60 hours of work. However, there is still a lot to be done before it is ready, so I imagine the total time to create the course will be closer to 100 hours. I've taught my “Lyrical Writing” course to 160 students. 96 students have so far taken my “Glorious Words” course. So, this is roughly another forty-five minutes to an hour of my time per course participant.
Maybe you’re looking at that and going – ‘Well, £85 is a decent wage for four and a half hours work.’ It is almost £20 an hour. But there are other things which chip away at that fee. I use Paypal to process course payments and Paypal takes between £3 and £5 depending on where the writer is based. In order to promote my business, I have a website and a professional email account, a GSuite account etc. All of these things cost money and take time to set up / maintain. As a freelancer, there are a lot of things that absorb your time / energy which you don’t get paid for directly. Answering emails, marketing, writing / sending newsletters, training, further study, accounting – these are all things that need to be wrapped into a freelancer’s schedule that don’t bring with them any direct monetary reward.
And the reason for this ramble through my earnings / the life of a creative writing freelancer is not to attract any pity. I'm quite happy with the amount I’m able to earn, especially given the current situation regarding my health. But my earnings don’t necessarily reflect the skill and knowledge required to carry out my job. Teaching and editing both take a lot of training. I hope I do them well. The Chartered Institute of Editorial Professionals currently suggests a rate of £31.30 for copyediting (compare that to my current editorial fee of £18 per hour). For developmental editing, they suggest a rate of £36 (double what I currently charge). The National Association of Writers in Education suggests a day rate of £200 (almost twice my current rate).
Other freelancers offering similar services to my own will also be working at a rate that is much lower than those suggested by the CIEP / NAWE, willing to offer their services and share their expertise at these lower rates because they understand that to do otherwise would exclude a large swathe of writers.
So, anyone reading this blog post who previously considered writing courses / editorial services to be too expensive, my hope is that you might reframe your perspective. You are effectively buying someone’s time and expertise, and both of these things are precious commodities. A good writing teacher / editor can do so much to rocket-boost both your writing craft and your creativity. And many freelancers are earning a wage that is below what their skills deserve. As a community, we shouldn’t undervalue ourselves. Writing is important. And if there is value in writing then there is value in the teachers and editors who help bring that writing to life.
One of my personal frustrations with the cost of writing courses / editorial services is that, despite many of them providing good value for money (as hopefully outlined above), they are still exclusionary. In order for any form of writing to reflect society, we need all voices to be given a seat at the table; and one of the things that I think is commendable among the community of creative writing freelancers (especially, the small enclave of us based in the UK) is how many offer reduced price / free places for low-income writers.
But should the onus be on the freelancer to fund these places or should the onus lie elsewhere? This brings in a much bigger issue about the freedom of access to education. In this country (and I suspect this is the case in most countries), there is a general lack of funding for the arts. Any available grants are highly competitive and can often absorb hours of work just putting an application together. So, we are left with freelancers funding these places from their own pockets or relying on generous donors from elsewhere (and there are some amazing people out there - you know who you are; thank you!)
Since I started running my courses in January 2021, offering free / pay-what-you-can places has left me £900 out of pocket. I am very happy to fund this and will continue to do so as long as I can. But I equally don't think we should make this an expectation of a writing course / editorial service else it risks becoming exclusionary in its own right. As I said above, everyone should be given a seat at the table and this extends to who is financially able to work in these important roles. If we expect writing services to be both inexpensive and on a pay-what-you-can model then we will end up with only a certain type of person working in these roles and our literary community would be poorer because of it.
So, next time you ponder the cost of a writing course or an editorial service, consider whether it really is expensive or whether it is, at this moment in time, simply not affordable for you. If it is the latter then rage at that. Rage loudly. But perhaps direct your anger towards the inequalities of our modern society and the lack of funding for the arts, and not towards the creative writing freelancers who are, on the most part, just trying to earn a living.
Finally, a small plea, for anyone who is in a position to support narrowing the access gap to creative writing opportunities, I would be very grateful if you would consider buying me a virtual coffee. Any money donated to my Ko-fi page will be used to fund free and reduced price places for my Write Beyond The Lightbulb courses, as well as to provide free editing and mentoring opportunities for low-income writers, and to support other opportunities that seek to level the playing field.
As a thank you for reading this blog post and generally for being such a supportive bunch of people, I’ve recently added some free resources to my website (and have added a couple of additions just this morning) – you can find these here along with links to free resources from other wonderful people.
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